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15 October 2014
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My Memories of the Italian Campaign

by chapelparkonline

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Walter Balderstone
Location of story: 
Middle East
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 June 2004

I started off in the army and my first posting was Cairo. I joined the eigth army and went right through the western desert until we got to Tunis, then we were posted back to Tripoli and from there we went to Salerno. From there we joined the American fifth army and jined the Italian campaign. I finished off in Austria. Throughout my journeys i have many memories. I haven't got many of the desert because when we joined the campaign the Germans were almost a spent force. We finished off as the campaign in Tunis. Most of my memories are of the Italian campaign. We sailed from Tripoli to Salerno and my first sad memory was when we were up on the main deck of a ship and dawn was just breaking, there was aerial activity (German), and we were on top deck ready to disembark. But to my horror the young soldier standing next to me slumped onto my soldier and i thought he ahd perhaps just fainted. But i called a medical orderly and the orderly took the young soldier below decks. About half an hour later i said to the orderly, "How is the young lad?" And to my immediate horror the orderly said he had been killed by shrapnel. When we finally disembarked, there was considerable aerial activity and the vehicle i was in with others got stuck in the sand. So two of us got out quickly and with spades dug the wheels out and all the time we were subject to considerable gunfire from aircrafts. In order to not hold up to the disembarkation we were told to drive the vehicle towards the back of the beach. By this time things were getting very serious and we took cover in a nearby field beneath very tall tomato plants and that was our only cover. The campaign was very difficult and i can only give some of my near misses from danger. As the campaign continued we met many tragic happenings. In one position where our guns were, we were somewhat surprised how often the enemy got our position. Two of our personnel were snt forward to a nearby farmhouse and they entrered and immediately signaled for more of us to help them. When we entered the farmhouse, which had not been damaged and normally the farmhouses were very damaged, we found in the farmhouse several adults, men and women, complete with transmitting apparatus and we later found out they were in contact with a German position. Consequently the reason for our alomst continual shell-fire coming onto our position. They were immediately apprehended and sent back to a prisoner of war cage. Then on another occasion, we were taking shelter in a ruined farmhouse and we were in a downstair room, presumably the former kitchen. There was no glass in the windows, only wooden shutters. For light we had a candle in a bottle. Afetr a short time a loud explosion occured in the yard outside and the blast of the shell broke the shutter off the hinges, blew the candle out and we had the frightening experience of a large wooden shutter being thrown across the room. The broken glass bottle, a portion went into one of our soldiers calves. As soon as possible we got him back for medical aid. And that soldier, we understood, had the injury to his leg which couldn't be successfully repaired. But the sensation of this wooden shutter flying through the darkness, which just missed me head, (i could feel the draft), but that soldier was the only casualty. On another occasion we were on site near a field of olives. We were in trenches and the fellow with me was rather nervous of the situation and I volunteered to get our food. I was walking down the olive grove to our site where they were preparing the food and i heard a swish, (the noise of a shell coming down)and i immediately flattened onto the ground. When things were clear i stood up and two of the trees had been filled with shrapnel at about head height. So i considered i was very lucky to miss the shrapnel. We continued up to Cassino, onward to Bologna where we were sheltering in old ruined farmhouses. Many animals were in the farmyards. We heard noise outside and an italian farmer came in and he broke down tearfully. He said, "Tediski no good". (Tediski was the Italian word for German.) He continued crying. Our position was constantly under shell-fire. One of our men said to the farmer, "What's the trouble Dad?" He said,"I cannot feed my animals." So the soldier said to him, "Don''t worry, i'll feed them." And in spite of almost intensive sheel-fire, this man went round the stables and cow-sheds and fed the animals successfully, without mishap. From this farmhouse we advanced up the lane some two miles. To occupy yet another ruined farmhouse. There was no animals or farmers on site so we occupied the remains of an old farmhouse and on December 24th 1944, we were under heavy bombardment. Just before dark, several shells dropped on the farm site. One shell exploded mear our shelter and shrapnel came thorugh the wooden shutter and as i was coming in through the door i received pieces of shrapnel in my left arm and one piece through my side just above my hip. I had the dreadful feeling of blood cascading down my arm. But my fellow soldiers reacted very well. They tied a tourniquet at the top of my arm which stemmed the flow slightly. Then the soldiers with me said, "You must get to a dressing station." And one went outside into the lane and was able to stop a bren gun carrier. He came back and said to me that the bren gun carrier driver would take me to a field dressing station. So i went outside to the vehicle and the driver said to me, "It's very dangerous at the cross-roads at the end of the lane. I'll have to go at speed. So the only thing i can suggest is you stamd on the running board above the track and cling on the side with your good arm." We went down the lane at speed and bren gun carriers bump and jump a lot because they are on tracks so it was an uncomfortable ride. He successfully got me to the field dressing room station and the first thing the medical orderly did was cut my uniform jacket from my arm and apply fresh dressings. He said i would be transported to a casualty clearing station. I got to this station late evening and i was subsequently operated on to wake up in a hospital ward Christmas morning 1944. In the ward we each received a little present, probably sent out from different sources in England. For example notepaper, pencils etc. The sad part of this Christmas morning was when an orderly came round with our little gifts and in a bed oppposite me was a german prisoner who had both his legs amputated from the very top. What registered so vividly with me was the fact that when the orderly gave the present to the German he immediately reached to his locker for money thinking he'd have to pay something. The orderly was a London cockney type and said, "We don't want your money jerry, it's Christmas!" From that hospital near Rimini we were evacuated south by plane to Taranto. We were taken from the hospital by ambulance, driven by an american. He got into his driving seat, looked at a list and said, "Balderstone?" And then he called the German's name. In the bunk above me was the German and on the other side of the ambulance was an Italian. Before he drove off he looked at the list again and said, "Balderstone English, so and so German, so and so Italian," And with typical American humour looked at me and said, "Jesus Christ we've got the league of Nations on board!"

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